Seamus Heaney’s first published book of poems was in 1966 and the opening poem in that collection was Digging. The same poem is the opening poem in a much later collection of his poetry entitled “Opened Ground” in 1998. Heaney certainly opens ground throughout his life, as he digs with his pen. As he sits at his desk in his upstairs room he hears his father digging in the yard. He recollects that he is the first in his family not to be doing manual labor. He honors the hard work of his father and grandfather and great grandfather and beautifully pays tribute to their knowledge and skill. This poem causes me to remember my own father and his day to day work with his tools and for the skills he taught me in how to work with some tools. Although he didn’t have many tools, what he had he used well, and was good at what he did. I hope Heaney’s poem causes you to pause and be thankful for the work of your parents and grandparents and for the skills and lessons passed down through the generations. Listen to Heaney read his poem and you will, I hope, sense the genuineness of his words and the treasured memory he was holding and sharing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61zlSYgFwmk


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Loving God,
For memories of family,
and stories passed
down through the generations,
I give thanks. Along the way,
while remembering and looking forward,
I have created new stories for the telling.
May love reside at the center, may hope
push out at the edges, and may faith hold
everything together.
Loving God, you have called us to be
family and to pray to you as Jesus prayed
“Our Father” Enable us to be welcoming
and forgiving of all. Inspire us to seek
the best for neighbor and stranger.
In particular, hear our prayer for families seeking
acceptance as refugees. Grant them continuing
courage and unending hope. Grant to us who
pray this prayer similar courage to
see to it that love and kindness, justice and mercy
is extended to all. Amen.

One thought on “Digging

  1. One of my family’s favorite “special edition” books is one of Heaney’s poetry. The illustrations, binding, paper and print type make it very nearly a work of art in itself. I recall that in the preface Heaney is referred to as a “poet of territory” and I have always found that interesting. I’m so glad to read this post and perhaps come to understand more.

    My parents and grandparents had many skills, through necessity. They tried to pass some on to me, finding success with some and not with others.

    As I read “Digging”, I can visualize the scene in my mind’s eye, and I think of my Great Grandmother. She had 12 children, raised most of them as a young widow, and shared with us the story of her first born. Granny, as we always called her, was working in a potato field, gave birth to her first daughter, put her in a shoe box and continued to finish the row she was hoeing. She was a woman of strong faith, a real character, and always determined to finish what she started. She lived to be 100. I’ve no spade to follow a woman like that!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: